KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Taliban fighters Sunday took control of much of the capital of northern Afghanistan's Kunduz province, including the governor's office and police headquarters, a provincial council member said.
Ghulam Rabani Rabani said fighting between insurgents and government forces had taken place around the governor’s office and police headquarters but that later the Taliban had taken over the two buildings. They also had control of the main prison building in Kunduz, he said.
Rabani said fighting was continuing at the city's airport and other parts of the city. Kunduz is a strategic crossroads with good access to much of northern Afghanistan as well as the capital, Kabul, about 200 miles (335 kilometers) away.
If Kunduz falls, it would be a significant gain for the Taliban and a test of their ability to take and retain territory. It is one of the country’s larger cities with a population of more than 340,000.
A Taliban surge has intensified as U.S. and NATO troops wrap up their withdrawal from the country. With Taliban attacks increasing, Afghan security forces and government troops have retaliated with airstrikes aided by the United States. The fighting has raised growing concerns about civilian casualties.
On Saturday, Taliban fighters entered the capital of Jawzjan province after sweeping through nine of 10 districts in the province. Several other of the country’s 34 provincial capitals are threatened as Taliban fighters sweep through large swaths of Afghanistan at a surprising speed.
Meanwhile, airstrikes damaged a health clinic and high school in the capital of southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, a provincial council member said Sunday.
A Defense Ministry statement confirmed that airstrikes were carried out in parts of the city of Lashkar Gah. It said forces targeted Taliban positions, killing 54 fighters and wounding 23 others. It made no mention of a clinic or school being bombed.
Majid Akhund, deputy chairman of the Helmand provincial council, said airstrikes hit a health clinic and a school in the city's 7th police district late Saturday. But he said the area is under Taliban control so any casualties could have been caused by Taliban there.
Dr. Ahmad Khan Weyar, an official from the Helmand public health department, said a nurse was killed when an airstrike hit a health clinic and a guard was wounded.
“American invaders bombed and destroyed another hospital and school in Helmand,” the Taliban said in a statement. It said Safyano Hospital and Muhammad Anwar Khan high school were bombed.
The clinic in Lashkar Gah was offering services mostly to nomads who were passing through the area, according to Akhund, but in recent days the area was under Taliban control and Taliban may have been treated there.
Heavy fighting has taken place in and around Lashkar Gah and both U.S. and Afghan government air forces have conducted airstrikes in the city. The Taliban control nine of the city’s 10 police districts.
By RAHIM FAIEZ Associated Press